Skipping Netconf 2020, Internet shutdowns, Kashmir issue and more

A post to dump mind views. Hasgeek folks (who run RootConf conference in Bangalore + some other places around) seem to be in expanding mode. Besides RootConf which is a conference primarily for DevOps community, they are doing events on Fintech etc and now expanding to networks. I have been to and presented at multiple RootConfs on RIPE Atlas probes and BGP routing security. Both of these topics were from networking domain but closely touch the Sysadmins and thus probably made sense.

Hasgeek is a private organisation (to best of my knowledge) and it was actually nice to have someone working hard in doing events, getting the operational community together and thus I supported them. They usually do a good job at organising part of the event (may not be true on content).
Now with their latest Netconf 2020 in Bangalore, I am surprised at the topics they are putting for a networking conference. While I got a glimpse of those in private emails, but now that part of the agenda is public here, I can probably talk about it.

Here’s how Call for proposal page looks like (on 10th Feb 2020):

It’s just crazy and pathetic that they picked Internet shutdowns and Internet censorship for a considerable part of the conference. Furthermore, they are expecting network engineers along with Civil society groups, Tech and law researchers and activists and what not. That’s a too diversified set of people and doesn’t make any sense.


Why Internet shutdowns discussion right now is a bad idea?

(Warning: Might seem unrelated in the first glance, but read on…)

  • A considerable part of shutdown or censorship talks link directly to Kashmir or a little bit now on CAA. As someone who spends considerable time “on the internet”, I do very well understand the pain of shutdown in Kashmir but internet shutdown & censorship cannot be seen in isolation.

  • A large part of the narrative here goes along projecting as if things were perfectly fine in Kashmir before removal of article 370 (technically making it ineffective) on 5th Aug 2019 and everything after that is a problem. That is simply not true at all. Abrogation of article 370, as well as 35A which was a temporary, transitional and special provision to grant State of Jammu & Kashmir special status, was an excellent step towards fixing this old issue of disintegration.

  • There’s too little Govt. can do in conflict areas in terms of monitoring these days especially due to end to end encryption in apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and even basic SSL based security on most of the email providers. WhatsApp groups are a very effective way to communicate and it’s usually fine in non-conflict areas but for conflict areas, it’s a pain. I am going to quote from some non-Indian sources here (which apparently world loves):

    Some related articles which point towards this issue:
    London bridge terror attack was planned on WhatsApp,

    Telegraph article - WhatsApp accused of giving terrorists ‘a secret place to hide’ as it refuses to hand over London attacker’s messages

    Trucks, Knives, Bombs, Whatever” Exploring Pro-Islamic State Instructional Material on Telegram

    Vox article - Terrorists’ love for Telegram

  • I am overall in favour of an end to end encryption, SSL use everywhere etc but subject to the right of the state to ensure law & order. I do not think the internet is more critical than ensuring law & order in conflict areas especially in the country of 1.3 billion people.

  • Specifically, on J&K - we cannot have a system where people from Kashmir had all the rights across India but non-J&K people had limited rights in the region. It has to be retrospective and not just with Jammu & Kashmir but across all the states of the Union of India.

  • Jammu & Kashmir was getting 10% of funds while having just 1% population (source). Uttar Pradesh with 13% Indian population got only 8% of the central govt. funds. That doesn’t make sense and should not go on forever.

  • Many progressive Indian laws were not applicable in Jammu & Kashmir. In fact, if we look at most of the laws & orders passed before 5th Aug 2019, they used to start with a statement - Applicable to entire India except J&K. In the US it’s much stronger federal structure due to different states getting freedom at different times but that’s not the case with India.

  • Article 370 exempted the State from the complete applicability of the Constitution of India. The State was conferred with the power to have its own Constitution.

  • On education & employment rights as per Wikipedia article: The state government officials of Jammu and Kashmir have issued “permanent resident certificates”. However, these certificates differ by gender.
    The certificates issued to females are marked “valid only till marriage”, while certificates for males have no such markings. If a woman married to an Indian outside of Kashmir, she was denied a new certificate.

  • According to Article 35A, a Kashmiri woman loses property rights if she marries a non-Kashmiri. Furthermore, her children are not considered ‘permanent residents’ if their father is a non-Kashmiri.

  • The exodus of Kashmiri pandits from Kashmir back in 1990 which was sadly almost ignored by most of India. Anywhere from 200,000 to 800,000 left Kashmir due to militancy Wikipedia article on the exodus here.

  • Quoting again from Wikipedia article here: According to official figures released in Jammu and Kashmir assembly, there were 3,400 disappearance cases and the conflict has left more than 47,000 people dead which also includes 7,000 police personnel as of July 2009. All this pretty much due to extreme radicalization in Kashmir.

    and a lot more.

So what I am trying to put here is that Kashmir already had some serious issues. Just because many people do not like talking about it doesn’t really take those issues away. The problem is complicated and needs way more personal bandwidth than an individual can put in such technical conference discussions.

Thus I feel it’s ethically wrong to ignore larger problem & look at internet shutdowns in isolation. Furthermore adding a bunch of people from outside India & projecting an image that somehow “things are at a very dangerous stage now(which folks from Hasgeek are trying to do). I am willing to discuss Internet shutdowns with anyone (outside of my working hours) as long as the other person (whether from India or outside) is willing to discuss the entire problem without being selective about what they pick.


The number problem

Another problem these days is over obsession with the numbers.
Take for example this article from The Washingtonpost: You’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist. It claims: somewhere around 100 Americans will have died throughout the day in vehicular accidents.

A good friend of mine once quoted someone (I miss a person’s name now Kenneth Anderson is a professor at Washington College of Law) who countered it: If 100 Americans unfortunately loose life in vehicular accidents today, it would be similar tomorrow, next month, next year etc. Unless something drastically changes, the rate of growth would be relatively linear if not declining (due to better safety, technology, the reaction of the system to prevent those etc). What about terrorism? If 10 people die today, can we be sure it would be a similar number next year? What if all efforts against radicalised folks are stopped since after all more people are dying due to vehicular accidents, the number will rise exponentially. Remember it cost around $400,000 and $500,000 for 9/11 attacks (source here) where unfortunately close to 3000 people lost their life. In the people who died was also Daniel Lewin - American–Israeli mathematician who was a co-founder of the world’s largest CDN network Akamai (Wikipedia article has more details).

Another example here is the Medianama website - which used to be a good website on tech & policy reporting before it’s founder Nikhil Pahwa decided to reduce it to internet censorship and anti-aadhar portal.

In April 2018 they reported: Internet shutdowns in India caused a loss of $3.04 billion between 2012-2017 (article here). Taking numbers at face value - so yes $3.04 billion loss. What about the other side? If the internet wasn’t shutdown would business be conducted as usual? All those POS transactions, e-commerce delivery, e-whatever delivery would be just going in mid of tensions? I think such numbers are as stupid as the (old) claim of $43 billion loss in the 2G scam.

Did scam happen? Yes, because terms of allocation were changed to favour certain people.

Did govt. actually lose $43 billion, well very likely not at all.

As an example say an iPhone which costs $1000. I somehow steal 10 units from Apple and try to re-sell it for $600 each. So actual value of iPhones: 10 x 1000 = $10000, value for which I sell: 10 x 600 = $6000. Thus a notional loss of $4000 to Apple. What if the stealing didn’t happen and the phone was priced originally $1000 for everyone. Would 10 people who bought it for $600 have still bought it?

It’s easy to just put random numbers in support of any argument. I live in a city in Haryana where most of parks have statues of soldiers who gave up their life serving the country. Guess where most of them lost their life? Name starts with “K”.

For now, Hasgeek has reduced itself to a propaganda machine to support a specific narrative. It’s their right to organise an event in a free country and it’s equally my right to stay away from it in the same free country. :)

End of mind dump!